Shero Out; Devils End Tampa Win Streak

Wow. What a day and a half for the New Jersey Devils.

Hot on the heels of defeating the top team in the league, the Washington Capitals, the Devils were set to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, easily the hottest team in the league with a ten-game winning streak.

Then, about an hour before game time, word came down that the Devils and General Manager Ray Shero had parted ways. Josh Harris of the Devils’ ownership group, stated in a press conference before the game on MSG Network that there was a difference of philosophy basically on how the Devils should handle the upcoming trade deadline.

Shero was let go and Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald would step in as interim General Manager with Martin Brodeur acting as an adviser for hockey operations to Fitzgerald. Brodeur had previously served as Assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues and was most recently the Devils’ executive vice president of business development.

Devils managing partner Josh Harris said that he and Ray “are in agreement that the Devils need to move in a new direction and that this change is in the best interest of the team.” He also said that the “organization remains deeply committed to creating a sustainably winning franchise.”

The Devils currently stand in last place in the Metro Division with a 17-21-7 record (as of tonight’s game) with 41 points. Over Shero’s five seasons in charge of the Devils, the team posted a record of 157-167-48 and had one playoff appearance. Not a knock on Shero at all, of course, the team was a mess when he took over. He made some moves to improve the team, no doubt. If you had told me before the season that all three of Shero, John Hynes and Taylor Hall would be gone before the All-Star break, I would not have believed you at all.

“Our fans deserve nothing but the best hockey. We thank them for their continued support as we work toward our goals” said Harris. These goals include a search for a new GM, which will be commencing immediately and will include Fitzgerald being interviewed.

Oh yeah, and following all of this turmoil, all the Devils needed to do was take down the Lightning, one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference and winners of 10 straight.

There was one small other news item that slipped past with the news of Shero’s departure. Cory Schneider, last seen in the NHL losing to the Edmonton Oilers on November 8, made his return from the American Hockey League. He was called up from Binghamton and backed up starter Louis Domingue – making back-to-back starts for the first time as a Devil – with Evan Cormier being sent back to the AHL.

So, how did the Devils fare after all of this? They won, 3-1, handing Tampa their first loss in 11 games tonight at the Prudential Center.

The Devils did get some good news prior to the game. Jack Hughes came back after five games out with an upper body injury. It was his first game of the 2020 calendar year, as he got hurt on New Year’s Eve against the Bruins.

They were, however, subtracting someone from the lineup. Leading goal scorer Kyle Palmieri was out with a lower body injury as he got hurt blocking a shot last night in Washington. He joined Mackenzie Blackwood on the sidelines and Mirco Mueller was the healthy scratch with Connor Carrick back in again.

The goalie matchup, as mentioned, featured Domingue, a former Bolt traded to the Devils earlier this season – making a back-to-back start and he was great again, making 26 saves on 27 Tampa shots for a .963 save percentage. Opposing him was Tampa backup Curtis McElhinney, who stopped 17 of the 19 shots he saw for an .895 save percentage. The Devils ended up with 20 shots due to an empty net goal later on in the game.

The game started out feisty. At the 9:33 mark of the first period, Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov hit Jesper Boqvist from behind and Kevin Rooney took exception. He was taken down by Tampa’s Anthony Cirelli, who administered a few rabbit punches to the head of Rooney while he was down on the ice. Cirelli went off for roughing, but things would stay chippy all night.

On the power play, the Devils went 0-for-4 with ten shots. They also held the vaunted Lightning power play to 0-for-2 with just three shots.

Things started out normal enough. Tampa got on the board first just 37 seconds into the second after a scoreless first period. It happened when New Jersey could not get the puck out of their own end and Victor Hedman passed to Tyler Johnson on Domingue’s doorstep. He scored the 15th goal of Tampa’s ten-game winning streak. But it would also be the last.

Later on, at the 3:10 mark of the second, Andy Greene scored his first goal of the year when Miles Wood dropped the puck to Greene just as he was entering the Tampa zone. He ripped a slap shot that beat McElhinney clean and ended the shutout streak the Lightning had going at 169:05. That tied the game up at one. Hughes had the secondary assist on the goal.

The game-winner for the Devils came a little less than four minutes after Greene’s goal when Nikita Gusev took a pass from Damon Severson, then faked passing back to him. He instead shot quickly on net and Travis Zajac tipped the shot by McElhinney to give the Devils the 2-1 lead.

Late in the second, with a little over a minute left, Yanni Gourde and Carrick got into a scrap. It was a spirited fight and saw both players fall to the ice in a draw.

The third period seemed to yield a third goal early for the Devils when, with 8:21 left, Gusev made a great move around Cirelli, had him fall down and skated around him to put the puck in the net behind McElhinney.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper then used his coach’s challenge, arguing goalie interference from Blake Coleman. While initially, it seemed that Cirelli had fallen into McElhinney when Gusev beat him, it was actually Coleman that impeded the Tampa goaltender from making the save and the goal was called back after review.

The Lighting pulled McElhinney with 2:19 left in regulation and the Devils took their aim at the empty net, complete with Zajac skating down the rink, nullifying icing and trying to wrap the puck around and into the net. Unfortunately for him, Coleman and Lightning player tangled together and tumbled into the net, dislodging it before Zajac could score.

Miles Wood would eventually get the empty net goal with one second to go in the game for New Jersey, marking the second straight game where Wood has scored into an empty net. Wayne Simmonds and Greene had the assists, marking two points for Andy Greene on the night. Wood also had a goal and an assist for two points on the evening.

That made it 3-1 with two of the Devils’ oldest veterans combining to score the most important goals that would sink Tampa.

The Devils dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 61-percent of the game’s draws, with Pavel Zacha winning 75-percent of the faceoffs he took.

The Bolts outhit the Devils, 23-19, but the Devils had more blocked shots at 14-12 and only two turnovers to Tampa’s six.

Individually, PK Subban led all Devils skaters in ice time with 26:03 with 5:45 on the power play and 1:51 on the PK. Zacha led the forwards with 19:52 including 5:15 on the power play and 1:03 shorthanded.

Shots on goal were spread pretty evenly with Nico Hischier, Zajac, Wood, Hughes, Gusev, Will Butcher, Severson and Subban all registering two to co-lead. Coleman once again led in hits with four. Kevin Rooney and Greene each led in blocks with four each. Takeaways were co-led by Hischier, Zacha and Sami Vatanen who had one apiece.

Greene was the third star, Zajac the second and Domingue the first on the night.

So the Devils will try to go for the trifecta, defeating another highly offensive team in the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday north of the border. Puck drop for that game is 7 PM and we will have a write up for you right here when the game is done.

Palmieri Nets Hat Trick but Devils Lose in OT

The Devils have had a rough October to say the least. Tonight, they held Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos off the scoresheet, outshot their opponents 42 to 23 and Kyle Palmieri scored his first hat trick as a New Jersey Devil, but they still fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in overtime 7-6.

Some roster moves to get to first. Jesper Bratt was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch in the last game way back last week. Sitting in his place was Nikita Gusev, who the Devils felt could use some time up in the press box watching the game with team legend Patrik Elias, who would help him see the NHL game a little bit better. Mirco Mueller and Jesper Boqvist were also scratched.

Connor Carrick will be out for four to six weeks following having surgery on his broken right pinkie finger. However, the Devils did bring Will Butcher back into the lineup following his activation off of the IR the other day. It was his first game since October 17. Butcher would be on the third pairing with Matt Tennyson.

One player who rewarded his being reinserted into the lineup was Bratt. He played primarily on a line with Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha as the second line combo. He would reward the coaching staff’s decision to bring him back in by scoring two goals tonight and playing a good overall game.

Tampa, on the other hand, would be without some key parts of their lineup. Victor Hedman and Patrick Maroon were both injured last night in the Lightning’s game at the Garden against the Rangers.

The Devils got on the board early – just 1:10 into the game when Palmieri scored his first of the game on the power play. Kevin Shattenkirk had taken a delay of game penalty just 33 seconds in and the Devils capitalized when Taylor Hall shot from the far faceoff circle and Wayne Simmonds grabbed the rebound on the side of the net. He calmly passed to Palmieri in front. He buried it and the Devils had the 1-0 lead.

But with an offense like Tampa’s, no matter how slow a start they have gotten off to, no lead is safe. At the 9:28 mark of the first, Ondrej Palat, on a delayed penalty against the Devils, took a cross ice pass from Shattenkirk and beat Cory Schneider. Brayden Point had the other assist. The game was now knotted at one.

Tampa would grab a lead in the draining minutes of the first on the power play. Nico Hischier was called for a hold and the Lightning power play went to work. Alex Killorn took a pass from Shattenkirk in the skates and, in one motion, turned and fired, giving the Bolts the 2-1 lead going into the first intermission. Tyler Johnson had the secondary assist on the goal.

The Devils would start the second period with about 10 seconds of overlapping power play time, but could not convert. They would finish the night 1-for-5 with nine shots on the power play and one shorthanded shot. Tampa was one-for-one on the power play with one shot. They also had a shorthanded shot that was turned aside by Cory.

And New Jersey would get another goal, 6:05 into the second, that, while not officially counting as a power play goal, did come as a penalty was expiring. Jesper Bratt swooped into the high slot to put a rebound in after Lightning goalie Curtis McElhinney made several stops on Nico right in front. That tied the game at two and was the first of two in the period for Jesper Bratt. Zacha and Hischier had the assists.

Damon Severson made a nice defensive play midway through the second period. Johnson had a partial breakaway and Severson cut down the angle, avoided a penalty and swept the puck to safety.

Just after that, at the 11:48 mark of the second, Point scored on a fortuitous bounce for the Lightning. Nico lost his stick and Tampa quickly got the puck on net. Cory made the initial save but the rebound bounced right to Point and he scored to give the Bolts back the lead at 3-2. Johnson and Mikhail Sergachev had the assists on this one.

But, less than a minute later, the Devils tied the game up once again. At 12:17, Palmieri scored his second of the game when Butcher wristed one from the point and Palmieri redirected it in. Taylor Hall had the secondary assist for his second point of the night as well.

The Devils retook the lead for the first time since the first period 59 seconds later when Bratt got his second of the night at 13:16. Nico won the faceoff deep in the Tampa zone cleanly back to Andy Greene (who was celebrating his 37th birthday) and he gave the puck to Bratt. Bratt then curled at the half wall and shot. He beat McElhinney cleanly, although at first it appeared that Hischier had redirected it in. It was now 4-3 New Jersey.

Late in the second, Cory made a nice save on Sergachev as he was coming out of the penalty box on a breakaway. That kept the score 4-3.

Just 1:13 into the third period, Sami Vatanen gave the Devils a 5-3 lead. It was all hard work by Simmonds as he got the puck to the net, grabbed the rebound, boxed out the Tampa defender and passed it to Vatanen. Vatanen then simply walked right in and beat McElhinney to make it 5-3 Devils.

The Devils seemed to be in the driver’s seat, but, especially in this season and especially with the Lightning, no lead is safe for New Jersey.

The comeback began when Anthony Cirelli scored at 2:45 of the third. Tampa got the puck to the point to Jan Rutta. He shot on Cory and seemed to beat him, but replays showed that Cirelli had tipped it by him. Mathieu Joseph had the other assist. It was now 5-4 Devils.

The Devils continued to apply sustained pressure in the Tampa zone, but all it took was a Joseph shot redirecting in off of Hall’s skate and stick to tie the game at five. That goal came at the 7:45 mark of the second and Cirelli had the lone assist.

Then disaster struck when PK Subban’s stick failed him on a shot attempt from the Tampa blueline. The Lightning grabbed the puck and were off to the races. Point got it to Ondrej Palat, who roofed it over Schneider for his second of the game and made it 6-5 Tampa.

The stunned Devils could not seem to catch a break. Severson hit the post late in the third and they seemed headed for another regulation loss.

But, with about eight seconds left in regulation, with Cory pulled for the extra attacker, it was Palmieri to the rescue. He completed his first hat trick as a Devil (he has a second NHL hat trick that came with the Ducks) when Simmonds, again with great work along the boards, got the puck to Butcher at the point. He fired and McElhinney gave up a big fat, juicy rebound in front that Palmieri was able to clean up and, miraculously tie the game at six.

Once the next seven or so seconds expired, we were headed to OT.

Unfortunately, all it takes in OT in the NHL is to lose possession and things can change in a heartbeat. And that is exactly what happened when Palat took a shot that rebounded right to Johnson’s stick. He beat Cory to give the Lightning the 7-6 win in overtime. Ryan McDonagh had the other assist on the game-winner.

In the end, seven Devils had a multi-point night (Hall, Hischier, Simmonds, Palmieri, Bratt, Greene and Butcher). Palmieri was named the game’s first star while Bratt was the second (Tampa’s Palat was the third).

In goal, Schneider made 16 stops on 23 shots total for Tampa for a .696 save percentage. McElhinney turned aside 36 of the 42 pucks the Devils threw on net for a .857 save percentage.

The Devils won 59-percent of the game’s faceoffs, had 19 hits to the Bolts’ 16, blocked 12 shots to Tampa’s 10 and had seven giveaways to two for the Lightning.

Vatanen led all New Jersey skaters in ice time with 24:04 (4:58 on the power play and 1:24 shorthanded) while Hall led the forwards with 21:21 (5:21 with the man advantage). Palmieri led in shots on goal with eight, Simmonds led in hits with four, Greene led in blocks with three and Jack Hughes and Severson were the leaders in takeaways with two apiece.

So the Devils finish up October with a paltry 2-5-3 record (seven points) putting them last in the Eastern Conference. Hopefully things can begin to change on November 1 when the Flyers come to town to take on the Devils.

The Devils will now be settling into a more normal schedule, playing 16 games over the next 32 days (or roughly every other day). Maybe that will be enough to get things rolling for them. We will find out starting on Friday.